Friday, April 11, 2014

True or False: Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Greatest Action Movie Hero of All Time

Karen: The other day I read a fun and engaging article on by Bill Simmons called "The Action Hero Championship Belt." Simmons sets up some rules and then goes through chronologically from 1968 (when Steve McQueen's Bullitt premiered) and selects the top action hero for a particular time period. All the usual suspects are there -Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis -but Arnold Schwarzenegger comes away with more years on top than anyone else. Looking back, I'd say that's about right too. He was a believable butt-kicker in every role he played. 

Here are Simmons' rules, so you can answer today's question:

Rule No. 1: Over everything else, I need to believe our hero can kick everyone’s ass, in any conceivable situation, at any given time. And he needs to believe this, too.

Rule No. 2: During our hero’s apex, I would have seen his action movie no matter what the plot was, and no matter how lukewarm the reviews were.

Rule No. 3: The body of work from a particular run matters more than a single movie.

Karen: Based on this criteria, and whatever else you care to use, what do you say -is Arnold the Man?


J.A. Morris said...


I'd go with Harrison Ford, Errol Flynn, Mifune, McQueen before Schwarzenegger.

Anonymous said...

I've never liked him but I suppose I'd say true. I think he was totally wrong for Conan though - his version is not the Conan of REH or Marvel and it's tragic that most people think of him as THE Conan and know nothing about the REH stories or the Marvel comics. And now he could be coming back as King Conan aarrrghhh !! ( Although the 2011 Conan film was awful I must admit).

Doug said...

Colin --

I couldn't agree more with your Conan comment. Like Tarzan, we're still waiting for the faithful adaptation of the stories we loved!

There was a brief time when Chuck Norris was my guy.


david_b said...


Arnold's enjoyable, but I'd also keep Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee as contenders, based on the fore-mentioned guidelines.

Burt Reynolds in 'Cannonball Run' anyone..?

J.A. Morris said...

Okay,I missed the part about 1968, that's what happens when I comment before being fully awake. But I still say false.

Paul said...

I agree with J. A. about Ford, Mifune, etc. I'd even throw Jackie Chan in there.
I don't see how you can call someone the "Greatest of All Time" and only consider films since 1968. Then it should be "The Greatest Since 1968."

But to play by the rules, I'd have to say FALSE. But, that's just me, probably. I have never been one to go for action movies just because of a certain actor. I enjoyed Conan (even though, as has been pointed out, Arnold wasn't exactly the Conan of the stories), The Terminator, and Predator. But those films were decent films first, with decent directors, scripts, etc. They would have been so with any other actor. Arnold just isn't actor enough to pull me into a theater just because it's him. The other aspects of the movie would have to be the selling point for me, and I would see it DESPITE his presence.

Anonymous said...

Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, and even John Wayne were still going strong long after 1968.

Karen said...

OK, OK, perhaps I should have been more specific and not gone for the hyperbole of the phrase "all time." Sheesh! I can only say in my defense I was putting this post together just before bedtime, and was a bit tired.

But I would encourage you to read the Grantland piece by Simmons. It's long, but it's entertaining and he has his logic for how he gives out the belt to each champion. Personally, I will always rank Bruce Lee as one of the greatest action heroes, but I realize that his film output was relatively short. Still, for Enter the Dragon alone, I'd give it to him for 1973. I probably couldn't say all time though.

I have to say True to today's question though -Schwarzenegger was just supreme at what he did. Was he a great actor? Oh heck no. But he was convincingly bad ass in every role, and he always was eminently watchable. I'd put Stallone below him in that regard, although he might be a slightly better actor.

I don't think there are real action heroes today. No one seems to have the charisma of the guys who were running around in the 80s and early 90s. There's plenty of guys walking around with huge biceps and well-defined six packs, but they just don't have that something special (I'm looking at you, Vin Diesel).

Dr. Oyola said...

I'm gonna say False - but I am not sure I am the one to answer this question "action movie" as a genre is not my favorite and I have a problem with those "rules."

For example, my all-time favorite action movie (non-superhero) is Die Hard (original only), and part of what makes it great is that in it John McClane seems very vulnerable - not like he can "kick anyone's ass at any time."

In Arnold's best action movie Terminator (I hate T2) he isn't even the protagonist!

Oh and for the record, I do LOVE Arnold's Conan movie. It doesn't matter to me if it is like the short stories (which I also love), it was a great sword n' sorcery movie.

Edo Bosnar said...

There was a time when I would have said immediately. But I just don't like Arnie movies as much as I used to. However, I like most other action hero stars even less, to the point that I usually can't even sit through any of their movies (especially Norris, Van Damme, Seagal and Dudikoff). And I totally agree that he was horribly miscast as Conan, although that wasn't the only problem with those movies - the stories/scripts, especially in the first movie, were just way too bleak for Conan, who is essentially a pulp hero. And sorry Osvaldo, I thought also failed as a sword & sorcery movie. Incidentally, the Conan the Destroyer convinced me that Grace Jones would have made an excellent action hero...

I guess all this rambling means my answer is false. Also, I read through (well, mainly skimmed through) that article by Simmons, and I can't help but think he really gives the blaxploitation films of the 1970s the short shrift. To me, no list of great action heroes is complete without due consideration for Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree and Fred Williamson. Like I said, a lot of the action films I used to love back in the 1980s/1990s have lost their luster for me, but I still occasionally like to watch some of those blaxploitation flicks. In fact, a few weeks ago I was reading an article posted on another blog in which the blogger asserted that those were actually the first real superhero movies. I think there's something to be said for that.

Edo Bosnar said...

Gah! Why do I never preview? "...I would have said TRUE immediately..."

david_b said...

OMG, OMG.., was SO BUSY this morning that I forgot to nominate a recent favorite of mine..:

Michael Jai White, BLACK DYNAMITE (2009)..

(No, not the insipid cartoon...)

Just an awesome, awesome blaxploitation homage I first watched in Kuwait, I've mentioned it on a few occasions.

AND he's quite the ladies man, from one of the opening sequences.

(Yes, ok it hasn't had a string of sequels yet, but I'm putting in a pre-emptive shout-out here.)

Pat Henry said...

Given the parameters, I'd have to say true. His body of work as an action star is larger—in some cases far larger—then some of the screen legends already named. The breadth of his work was larger, too, ranging from the standard actioner to comedy. What's interesting to me is Arnold got better at acting over time, and (before taking on the role of governor) actually became rather enjoyable because he seldom took himself too seriously.

Note that this is not a statement of preference for this actor over others, but given the parameters I'd have to say *true.*

Dr. Oyola said...

I like bleakness in my sword & sorcery. I also think of REH's Conan as a pretty bleak world.

Anonymous said...

Well, pre-1968 I'd go with John Wayne, but after 1968...? Arnold did what he did very well, but I'm not sure if I'd call him the absolute could make an argument for McQueen or Eastwood (or others) too.

Mike W.

Garett said...

Looking through Arnie's films, the ones I like are Terminator, Predator, and Total Recall. The rest, including Conan, are just ok. So I'm not sure who would take the #1 spot, but for me it wouldn't be him.

I'm surprised that Michael Biehn from Terminator didn't become a bigger star. He had good supporting roles in Aliens, The Abyss, and Tombstone.

I agree with Oyola about Die Hard and the hero having some vulnerability--same goes for Indiana Jones.
Marion: You're not the man I knew ten years ago.
Indiana: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.

Imagine Schwarzenegger as Indiana Jones...ouch!! : ( But Harrison Ford could do Total Recall.

William said...


JACKIE CHAN is the Greatest Movie Action Hero of All Time.

The dude is literally willing to risk his life to make his movies as authentic as possible. Plus he's made a ton more action movies than Arnold.

I own most all of JC's movies on DVD and/or BluRay, and I can watch them over and over, because they are just that awesome.

I even met Jackie once at a book signing in Miami when I bought his autobiography "My Life In Action". It's a fascinating read. The guy had a rough childhood growing up in a Chinese Opera troop (which is not at all like traditional European opera). The students lived a militaristic lifestyle, and were drilled in martial arts and acrobatics from sunup to sundown every day for years. JC is definitely not a spoiled and pampered Hollywood actor who uses a stuntman. He has done all his own stunts over the years, and has suffered multiple broken bones and other injuries, and even almost died on more than one occasion. I think Arnold got a paper cut once while turning the page of his script (kidding).

There's a great book about Jackie Chan's movies called "Dying For Action" by Renee Witterstaetter, who used to work for Marvel Comics. It's one of my favorite books, and I highly recommend it.

Anonymous said...

Yes. For what he has done with his films and there impact on popular culture, it has to been Arnold. Were there better actors or movies, probs. Were there some real clunkers in his career, oh yeah. Was he able to take what he had, his career, and turn it into so much more, yep. Am I going to keep answering my own questions, you betcha.

When you get right down to it, pound for pound, he's the man. There may be some contenders in the lower weight classes but they're known as lightweights for a reason.

The Prowler (Hasta la vista and don't forget, I'll be back).

Karen said...

William and Prowler -Thank you for the spirit and enthusiasm of your posts!

I think Jackie Chan is definitely overlooked. He deserves a lot more credit than he gets.

Osvaldo, what did you think of the latest Die Hard (if you saw it), where Willis was seemingly a senior citizen demi-god who could take any amount of damage and bounce back unscathed? Personally I thought it not only was the worst Die Hard film, but a horrible movie period.

Dr. Oyola said...

Karen, the last one I saw was Die Hard III, which was decent. I think II was pretty terrible and over the top violent (even for the genre) and hated it.

I had no interest in the recent ones, for a variety of reasons among them being his suddenly Wolverine-like abilities. ;)

Personally, the first one is the only one that matter and along with Gremlins and A Christmas Story are my three favorite X-mas films. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'll have to say true - with some reservations. I'd put Eastwood next, then a tie between Jackie Chan and Stallone. Like Karen, I have a soft spot for Bruce Lee, but his movie career wasn't as prolific as Arnie's.

- Mike 'Ah-nuld for President. No wait, he's ineligible. How about Secretary of State?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

I guess I'd probably have to say "True" also. . . but it sure is with a lot of reservations and qualifications. "Action Movie" is a relatively new-ish term, and it does seem to cross an awful lot of genres-- Sci-fi movies, war movies, cop/detective movies, spy thrillers, westerns, general adventure movies, etc, etc. Arnold was certainly the king for a long time. . . but it seems to me like he took that mantle from John Wayne, really, who definitely had a larger, broader body of work (and probably a similar ratio of flops!), and was a Hollywood A-Lister for pretty much the same number of decades, and was a far, FAR better actor-- no question whatsoever. But Hollywood changed, and Arnold was able to jump on and ride the still-cresting wave of big spectacle/effects/marketing-driven movies that followed. . . and he became to go-to guy for it in a self-perpetuating cycle. Honestly, I think Arnold is (was) at his best in the comedies he did-- he really seems so much more genuine. His true action films never fail to strike me as exercises in the Emperor's New Clothing, y'know?

No, personally I think Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood are truly, consistently greater in that they both have also had multiple succesful franchises (as well as one-offs) under their belts over the course of decades-long careers.


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